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MEEKS: Stewart Detention Center costs too much

There is no denying the fact that our immigration problems are complex. We have yet to demonstrate the will to truly seek a viable solution to them. The Band-Aid solution that involves mass incarceration of undocumented persons is hardly viable. The Stewart Detention Center bears witness to this. It is costing us millions of tax dollars while creating human rights violations on multiple levels. This week there will be a peaceful protest in Lumpkin calling for this center to be closed.

One cannot help wondering why this facility was built. Lumpkin, is a small town of 1,300 people and this center houses about 1,800 people and is currently filled to capacity. There have been many reports of inhumane treatment of those who are housed there, which has ranged from food unfit for consumption, lack of medical care, abuse of detainees with mental illnesses, shortage of hygiene supplies to verbal abuse by guards and forcing detainees to work for little or no wages.

It is also quite difficult for family members and friends to visit those who are being held there. There seems to be great lack of concern to act in a humane manner toward the folks who are being brought to Stewart. Even though this prison is filled with people who have no documents giving them legal status in America, they happen to be human beings who have a right to be treated as such.

Our country is playing a very unprofitable game. Though the financial costs are massive, they may prove to be small compared with the spiritual and psychological costs that will accrue from this process. A society can ill afford to treat those who are incarcerated as non-humans and try to maintain the same level of health and wellness that comes to those who try to respect every life no matter its circumstances.

In this case, the problem with having a large population of undocumented workers among us is not a problem they created. It is a problem that our thirst for cheap labor gave birth to and provided support for until it has grown into unmanageable proportions. Now that we find ourselves with this state of affairs, it is unfortunate we have decided to respond by incarcerating the undocumented and blaming them for their presence among us.

Surely we can do better than this. First of all it would make sense to allow intact families who are gainfully employed to continue working rather than creating the family crises that have occurred from arresting parents and leaving their children to be cared for by the state. And in cases where deportation is going to occur, every effort should be made to make sure that deportees are treated humanely. The randomness of the entire process leaves much to be desired and the demonization of the undocumented is totally unacceptable, unnecessary and unproductive.

Of course this is the pattern that oppression always follows. In order to justify abusive behavior, it is necessary to demonize one’s victim and establish the idea of their otherness so the behavior can be justified. This pattern has been practiced throughout human history each time a group of people was selected as the problem for the larger society and methods of controlling them were put into place.

We need to work with the undocumented in seeking to find the best solutions for each family. Of course, it will be labor-intensive but more cost-effective than the expensive prisons that do not lead to any lasting remedies.

All who care about human rights need to pause for a bit while seeking to clearly understand what we are doing as a nation and to speak loudly against every instance of a human rights violation. We should make it clear that these things will not be done in our names.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.

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